Social Support and Body Image in Group Physical Activity Programs for Older Women

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology

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Michelle PattersonFaculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada

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Meghan H. McDonoughFaculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada

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Jennifer HewsonFaculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada

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S. Nicole Culos-ReedFaculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada
Department of Oncology, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada

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Erica BennettSchool of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

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Physical declines with aging may negatively impact women’s body image. Group physical activity can be a source of social support that may improve body image. We examined how social support experienced in group physical activity programs impacts older women’s body image. Guided by interpretive description, we interviewed 14 women age 65 years and older who participated in group physical activity classes. Although women experienced both positive and negative body image, body image was generally positively impacted by physical activity. Four themes described social support processes that affected body image in the physical activity context: fitting in and being inspired through identifying with others; what is discussed and not discussed; providing comfort, understanding, and acceptance; and skilled and empathetic interactions with instructors. Understanding how social support in group physical activity can promote positive body image throughout aging can inform practical guidelines for facilitating and improving support in this context.

McDonough (meghan.mcdonough@ucalgary.ca) is corresponding author.

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